I’ve been reading Emily Mayhew’s Wounded & WWI nurse Dorothea Crewdson’s Diary, Dorothea’s War, so this poem, Night Duty, by Eva Dobell struck a chord. Eva was the niece of the poet, Sydney Dobell. She volunteered as a nurse during WWI & died in her 90s in 1963.
The pain and laughter of the day are done,
So strangely hushed and still the long ward seems,
Only the Sister’s candle softly beams.
Clear from the church near by the clock strikes ‘one’;
And all are wrapt away in secret sleep and dreams.
They bandied talk and jest from bed to bed;
Now sleep has touched them with a subtle change.
They lie here deep withdrawn, remote and strange;
A dimly outlined shape, a tumbled head.
Through what far lands do now their wand’ring spirits range?
Here one cries sudden on a sobbing breath,
Gripped in the clutch of some incarnate fear:
What terror through the darkness draweth near?
What memory of carnage and of death?
What vanished scenes of dread to his closed eyes appear?
And one laughs out with an exultant joy.
An athlete he – Maybe his young limbs strain
In some remembered game, and not in vain
To win his side the goal – Poor crippled boy,
Who in the waking world will never run again.
One murmurs soft and low a woman’s name;
And here a vet’ran soldier, calm and still
As sculptured marble sleeps, and roams at will
Through eastern lands where sunbeams scorch like flame,
By rich bazaar and town, and wood-wrapt snow-crowned hill.
Through the wide open window one great star,
Swinging her lamp above the pear-tree high,
Looks in upon these dreaming forms that lie
So near in body, yet in soul so far
As those bright worlds thick strewn on that vast depth of sky.